On a warm summer day in Gulgong last December, a group of seven artists from around the country gathered with me at Cudgegong Gallery to attend the opening of Time + Place: Australian Studio Ceramics 2010. Valuable experiences were shared and connections made as we viewed their work and then headed off for lunch – an enjoyable and worthwhile part of my first formal curating experience.
I wanted this exhibition to be about the diversity of Australian ceramics as this is focus of my job as editor of The Journal of Australian Ceramics. So, eighteen months ago when I started thinking about the exhibition, I gathered a list of artists whose work interested me; on a regular basis I followed their work, wanting to know what they were up to. Some have featured in magazines, some have exhibited widely, and others have websites and blogs – it’s so easy now to keep in touch. Common denominators, as I considered their work, were time and place.
Below is an excerpt from my opening speech, along with statements from two artists involved, Tania Rollond and Stephanie James-Manttan.
… Our concept of the world we live in is formed by the environment in which we live – the natural landscape, the man-made structures, the architecture, and the more intimate spaces around us in our daily lives, created by personal objects and possessions we collect. Some of us live in the city, others choose the inland country, others the coast. We live in anything from architect-designed homes, hand-built structures, and everything in between. Some of us collect obsessively, filling our personal spaces with all sorts of objects (natural and man-made), whilst others live simply, wanting peaceful, quiet, uncluttered spaces.
As well as being influenced by spaces around us, the time in which we live is another potent influence. How ceramic artists reflect these changing times is causing discussion at many levels. Is functional ceramics still relevant in this world of industrial, mechanical production? I believe that the handmade object will continue to play an important role as evidence of the time in which we live and that the artists whose work is here does that well.
It also takes time for artists to build their skills to make objects, time to make and fire them and they will last for a long time. Ceramic is an archival material. The works in the exhibition are evidence that these artists will leave behind.
Ceramics is dependant on time in its making.
These artists live and work in the real world.
They reflect the world around them.
They engage in conversation.
They show us a new way of looking at our world.
Tania Rollond on working to the theme Time + Place
A thought-provoking theme or title can be one of the best things about being involved in a group show. Sometimes they’re rather generic, allowing you to just make what you make (such as a material or method, like porcelain or wood-firing, or a location where you live or work). No harm in that, no risk. Other themes, though, prompt you to stretch yourself and can sometimes open up new areas of inquiry. A good theme can be that little bit of randomness that is so often the flashpoint for creativity. This reminds me of Edward De Bono, for example, using random words to generate ideas, or the way that travel tends to trigger more new thoughts than sitting at home. Creativity likes a bit of disorder – perhaps you have seen the photographs of Einstein’s desk? While a theme that asks you to attempt something completely out of your realm is possibly just a distraction, I find it’s easy to get stuck in a particular groove, so an interesting theme can act as the little nudge which just pushes your thoughts into a slightly different area. For me, Time + Place was this kind of theme – an opportunity to look and think.
Tania Rollond’s Artist Statement from Time + Place
The starting point for this series, along with the question of how my work could express time and place, was a trip to Japan. It was my first visit, and I was overwhelmed by the richness of the aesthetic experience. Everything was so beautifully considered – the plates and bowls in even the most modest restaurants were chosen with care, the textures and colours enhancing the food and providing contrast, and, of course, the food reflecting the season. This seemed to me a vivid expression of time and place.
I often noticed small vases (much smaller than I had ever made) with tiny arrangements of flowers, leaves or even grass in them. Like the presentation of food, I felt that this reflected a consideration of, and a respect for, time and place. They were on dining tables, in bathrooms, anywhere; small and beautiful punctuation marks in the day. I loved them as an expression of reverence for nature’s most unpretentious gifts (a morning or evening stroll around your block provides numerous possible floral inspirations if you choose to look), and as a reminder that it’s always possible to regard everyday moments as an ‘occasion’ with a little bit of care and thought.
Stephanie James-Manttan on working to the theme Time + Place
Time for me is something not to be taken for granted. I’ve started ceramics later in life and feel a need to consume time efficiently and respectfully. This is a complete contradiction to the amount of time spent marking and indenting the work I make. My ceramic medium is porcelain, and time can be its enemy if rushed. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by these constraints, but being in a place (Adelaide) where time runs at its own pace is refreshing and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
On reflection, I see the city of Adelaide as my macro place where I ground myself and ward off that ever-present pressure to fast-track time. On the other side of the coin, I have my micro places where I surround myself with people, objects, memories and strange little nit bits that I hope will one day contribute directly or indirectly to my work.
Stephanie James-Manttan on being part of a group exhibition
Coming from South Australia, I sometimes feel isolated, so it was great to meet and see other artists and their ceramics that you may have only read about in the media and on the web. Work really does take on a different feel when you see it in a gallery setting and not in jpeg format. Group exhibitions are also great opportunities to gauge and discuss your work with other artists. You also have the objects as a physical part of the conversation and not in a slideshow in an auditorium somewhere. Thanks to Arts SA for the funding to attend Gulgong for the opening.
Artists: Ros Auld, Mollie Bosworth, Stephanie James-Manttan, John Mawhinney, Karen Millar, Sophie Milne, Aleida Pullar, Tania Rollond, Brenton Saxby, Avital Sheffer, Pam Sinnott and Yuri Wiedenhofer.
Thanks to Yuri Wiedenhofer for his help in setting up the exhibition.